by Chris Jennings
The recent cold front was a welcome relief from summer's sultry blaze, but it's also cause to celebrate for waterfowl enthusiasts and hunters. The cold air, which pushed south into the United States from Canada, bringing temperatures in the low 50s to the Dakotas, persuaded early migrants like blue-winged teal to begin their annual journey south. Bluewings are generally the first waterfowl species to begin their southbound trip, and reports from their traditional wintering areas bring good news: fall is on its way.
"We had roughly 4,000 to 5,000 blue-winged teal show up on a DU project in Grand Chenier, La., this week," said Bob Dew, DU manager of conservation programs in Louisiana. "It's exciting when these birds arrive because it's a sign that fall is coming."
Blue-winged teal numbers were down 14 percent this year, which is a significant decrease from last year's numbers, but they are well above the long-term average for this species. Many states will offer an early teal season, which provides hunters with a first crack at these fast-flying birds. The exciting gunning, warm weather, and excellent table fare entice hunters, young and old, to the field every year.
"Our teal season in Louisiana is very important to local hunters and there are a lot of people who participate," Dew explained. "Having these birds show up is just another reminder for hunters to get ready."
Good news on the Gulf
The uncertainty of available waterfowl habitat in areas of the Gulf Coast threatened by the oil spill has had hunters, and biologists concerned. Dr. Tom Moorman, director of conservation planning for DU's Southern Region and lead scientist on DU's Gulf Coast Response Team, visited the marshes around Venice, La., last week and had great things to say about the habitat.
"The good news is that we saw very little oil in the marsh, and it looks really healthy in most areas with tons of great looking food plants present," said Moorman. "We saw a lot of shorebirds in that area, but we didn't see any teal, but they should arrive in large numbers any day now"
While healthy-looking marsh is great news, Moorman and other scientists understand there is much work to be done in Louisiana's coastal marshes – an area that has lost more than 40 percent of its wetlands and supports more than one million fewer ducks today than it did in past decades. Long-term restoration has been a priority for DU for more than 25 years, and that goal remains a top priority.
Return on investment
Teal arriving in the wintering areas is enough to get Dew excited, but he is ecstatic about their Grand Chenier stopover. The DU project there was marginal habitat at best before Dew implemented a restoration plan.
"This is great feedback. We took marginal habitat and turned it into somewhere the birds want to be," he said. "This is what we do: We take a piece of property and turn it into something valuable for waterfowl. These first few teal are showing us that what we are doing is working."
DU has conserved more than 328,000 acres in Louisiana alone, providing healthy migration and wintering habitat throughout the state.
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